Concert review: The Who Hits 50! tour opens in Tampa Bay

The Who's final tour — a retrospective of their 50-year career — opens in Tampa with support from Joan Jett

click to enlarge The Who's Roger Daltrey - Tracy May
Tracy May
The Who's Roger Daltrey

Once upon a time, The Who were known as the loudest, rowdiest, most daring rock n' roll band out of the UK. Unbelievable stories of the antics of late gonzo drummer Keith Moon and madman bassist John Entwhistle have become staples of rock mythology, and the remaining members have forged on and continued to carry the torch of the much beloved band since their formation a half-century ago. [Text by Gabe, photos by Tracy]

As guitarist Pete Townshend and dynamic lead singer Roger Daltrey proved this past Wednesday, on the opening night of "The Who Hits 50!" tour, they may not be as rowdy as they once were...but, boy are they still LOUD. And can they still carry a show.

Taking the mammoth stage at downtown Tampa's Amalie Arena just before 9 p.m., the six-piece band (including Pete's little brother Simon on rhythm guitar) took no time heating things up, opening with an early hit, "I Can't Explain." Townshend's jagged, instantly recognizable power chords screamed out of the many speakers that hung above the stage and filled the jam-packed arena with an instant dose of rock firepower.

Dressed in long-sleeved jacket, shades and a tightly-fitting, brimless skullcap, Townshend appeared more like an incognito traveler than the rock god he rightfully is. A little slower and less animated than in his prime, the 69-year-old veteran still packs enough swagger and guitar cred to dwarf most axemen half his age. 

As vintage, gorgeously vibrant and colorful images flashed on the gargantuan screen behind them and those perched on either side of the massive stage, dynamo lead belter Roger Daltrey — sporting a simple blue button-up shirt and specs and still in fine physical shape — reminded the ramped-up, opening night crowd of all he's capable of. Whipping his mic cord like a lasso and facing all sides of the arena, Daltrey still, without question, holds a firm spot on the short list of rock music's all-time greatest frontmen. 

Muscling their way through some of their many rock anthems, The Who whipped out killers like "Substitute" and "The Seeker" (which was apparently written in Florida many, many years ago) early in the set. While Daltrey may not be able to reach the highest of the high notes he used to hit, he's certainly still capable of squeezing out plenty of power and attitude in his vocal delivery and put his distinctive, ferocious growl at the forefront of every tune he leads.

As Townshend greeted the crowd between songs and gave some historical background and details about the songs that were to be played, he jokingly warned that the next song in the program "hadn't been rehearsed." With that, the first of the many deep catalog nuggets was dusted off as the band launched into a slightly slower-paced version of the rarely performed "Slip Kid" from 1975's The Who By Numbers

The more well-known anthem "Who Are You" elicited a rousing response and a spirited sing-along from the mostly 50-ish and above aged-crowd. Sporting an acoustic guitar for the song's opening sequence, Daltrey took ownership of the chugging rocker and raised the excitement level of the night as brightly colored lights flashed on the screens and along the perimeter of the lavishly designed poles that flanked the stage. 

True to tradition, opening nights sometimes come with a few bumps and gaffes along the way. Daltrey inadvertently flubbed a line in the band's signature song "My Generation" and drummer Zak Starkey (the son of Beatles drummer Ringo Starr), while solid and strong all night long, missed a couple of beats during an otherwise rousing rendition of "Pictures of Lily." 

But, those minor and almost unnoticeable flaws were brilliantly overshadowed by all the highs the band hit during the night's non-stop 130-minute thrill ride through their unparalleled power rock catalog.

click to enlarge Roger & Pete, The Who - Tracy May
Tracy May
Roger & Pete, The Who
Of the many highlights, an extended reading of "Magic Bus" that morphed into a killer psych-blues jam definitely stood out. Townshend, in a jovial mood, joked about what the song was really about. He alluded to theories that the subject matter and inspiration for the song was sex, or drugs, or...well, buses. All possibilities were met with rousing applause and laughter.

Continuing to gain steam and fall into their groove as the set wore on, Daltrey and his gruff, passionate ranging voice single-handedly stole the show, especially during his stirring, emotive reading of "Love, Reign o'er Me," the stunning ballad from the band's 1973 masterpiece, Quadrophenia. A longtime fan favorite, this particular performance undoubtedly ranked as one of the night's many highlights.

And speaking of highlights, on a personal note, the inclusion of the rarely-performed mini epic "A Quick One, While He's Away" surely ranked as the absolute jaw-dropping moment of the night for me and many of the diehards in the crowd, though there were plenty of folks left confused and scratching their heads. It was introduced as one of the songs the band performed at the Rolling Stones' Rock and Roll Circus concert film, the harmonies and the intricate tempo changes all razor sharp. 

Closing with the undisputed one-two punch of rock anthems "Baba O'Riley" and "Won't Get Fooled Again," The Who relied on the sheer fire and angst that the two songs have always packed to close the first night of what's reported to be their last world tour. Appearing jovial and elated, Daltrey and Townshend seemed to trade grins of accomplishment. Opting to not return for the traditional encore, the band instead chose to let the power and the majesty of the two closing numbers stand on their own merit, effectively bringing the night to a heroic end. 

click to enlarge Joan Jett - Tracy May
Tracy May
Joan Jett
Getting things started was a rocking, power-packed 40-minute set from new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Joan Jett. Backed by her trusty longtime backing band, The Blackhearts, Jett sailed through a compact selection of some of her best known hits with all the grit and guts she usually wields. Sporting a black tank top, black jacket and tight black pants, Jett also benefited from the usage of the crystal clear video screens at the rear of the stage. As vintage shots of her and the band flashed behind her, Jett cruised through hits like "Do You Wanna Touch Me", "Crimson and Clover" and, of course, "I Love Rock 'N Roll," her signature song. 

About The Authors

Gabe Echazabal

I was born on a Sunday Morning.I soon received The Gift of loving music.Through music, I Found A Reason for living.It was when I discovered rock and roll that I Was Beginning To See The Light.Because through music, I'm Set Free.It's always helped me keep my Head Held High.When I started dancing to that fine, fine...
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